Filmspotting Forum

Filmspotting Message Boards => Marathons => Topic started by: Junior on August 25, 2018, 03:00:53 PM

Title: Junior Gets Schooled
Post by: Junior on August 25, 2018, 03:00:53 PM
Ok, so as you might know, I'm starting my PhD at Ohio State this year (actually, I just finished my first week! Ah!) and since I'm going to get a kind of "minor" in film at the same time, I figured I could use this as a place to hold the reviews I write of things that I watch for class. I'll keep track of what I watch and what classes I watch them for here with links to the posts and schedules (when I have them) of viewing so those interested can follow along.

History of Animation - Fall 2018
(I don't have the schedule of this one because he doesn't tell us what we're going to watch ahead of time, so I'll have to just fill stuff in as we go)
8/22/18: Ready, Set, Zoom! and Blankety Blank (
8/24/18: Georges Méliès - The Astronomer's Dream, A Trip to the Moon, and The Eclipse (

Film History - Fall 2018
(The dates here will be the last day I can watch them before class, not necessarily when I'll write a review (probably the weekend following)

9/6/18: Souls for Sale
9/13/18: The Covered Wagon
9/20/18: The Plastic Age and The Freshman
10/4/18: Hallelujah
10/25/18: Our Darling Daughters and Little Caesar
11/1/18: Baby Face
11/8/18: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Maybe some others based on the project I do throughout the course.
Title: Re: Junior Gets Schooled
Post by: Junior on August 25, 2018, 03:31:35 PM
1955: Traditional and Experimental
We watched two shorts from 1955 to give us an idea of the variety of animation that was happening in the middle of the 20th century.

Ready, Set, Zoom! - Chuck Jones
The first short we watched from 1955 was a Looney Toon featuring the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote. It's not an outstanding example, but it hits the right buttons. I think my favorite gag was the heavy weight that doesn't fall until after the Road Runner zooms past it and Wile goes under it. I am a sucker for a cartoon animal getting smushed into a different shape and this one, where he walks away on normal legs with a round disk for a body/head is pretty great.


Blankety Blank - Norman McLaren
An experimental film with the barest of plots (one shape antagonizes another) set to a jazzy score, this one had a lot of fun energy to it. The shapes appear and disappear so much that you often just get a brief impression of their contours before they change again. The beat was made by McLaren scratching the film's soundtrack directly, and that's the kind of hand-made sensibility that permeates this film. Literally, the movie was painted directly on the film itself. It feels tactile and personal in a way that the Looney Toon doesn't, though it can't match the humor of that film's gags.


Georges Méliès: The Trick Film Maestro

The Astronomer's Dream
Oh yes, Méliès is almost too much fun. There's so much packed into this short that I can't even remember everything. There's an astronomer (wearing an outfit that I can only describe as "Magician's Apprentice-y") who falls asleep and has a nightmare about the moon coming down to earth and eating him. The moon prop is particularly good, big and expressive. Méliès gets a lot of mileage out of stopped camera tricks that are responsible for many of the gags, including my favorite where the astronomer tries to throw pretty much everything in his room at the moon but each object disappears just before it would leave his hand. It's not the most narratively nuanced thing I've ever seen, but it is damn fun.


A Trip to the Moon
We watched the restored, re-tinted version of this and it was really cool. The colors are bright and splotchy but that helps create this wild mood that the rest of the film supports with almost literal flights of fancy. Again, a group of old astronomers pile into basically a big bullet (in a scene that goes on for too long) that then gets shot into the moon where they find an alien society. It's got more story than the previous short did, but maybe to its detriment. The astronomers are barely distinguishable from each other and though a lot happens, almost none of it means anything. Perhaps this is proof that trick films are best when focusing on the trick rather than the flimsy story. The sets are gorgeous and the acting is suitably over-the-top, so that's nice.


The Eclipse
More astronomers in robes and pointy hats! This time they watch an eclipse that, in the short's best moment, gets oddly sexual. The moon is a woman (I think?) reminiscent of the one in A Trip to the Moon and the Sun is a devilish man reminiscent of the one in The Astronomer's Dream and when the moon goes in front of the sun the moon makes basically an O-face. After she stops occluding the sun, he looks like he's had himself a good, if vigorous, time. Weird! Then there's a meteor shower and a cool thing with people dressed up as stars riding along tracks against a black screen superimposed over a shot of clouds. It achieves the effect of rudimentary green screen and it works pretty well, even if you can see the blacked out bits.

Title: Re: Junior Gets Schooled
Post by: colonel_mexico on August 25, 2018, 04:33:34 PM
Congrats Jr! You are living the dream man and I will def be following along. Trip to the Moon always reminds me of that Smashing Pumpkins vid that stole from this for Tonight, Tonight.
Title: Re: Junior Gets Schooled
Post by: Dave the Necrobumper on August 25, 2018, 07:16:01 PM
When do you have to make a decision about your thesis? Or if you have already made it are you able to share the topic?
Title: Re: Junior Gets Schooled
Post by: Corndog on August 27, 2018, 01:09:41 PM
Title: Re: Junior Gets Schooled
Post by: Junior on August 27, 2018, 01:21:36 PM
When do you have to make a decision about your thesis? Or if you have already made it are you able to share the topic?

I'll have to write a paper for each class, but I'm not sure what I'm writing about yet. I'll be sure to let you all know when I figure it out.

Congrats Jr! You are living the dream man and I will def be following along. Trip to the Moon always reminds me of that Smashing Pumpkins vid that stole from this for Tonight, Tonight.

Thanks! I haven't seen that SP video, but Trip to the Moon is all over pop culture.


Happy to have you on board!
Title: Re: Junior Gets Schooled
Post by: DarkeningHumour on August 28, 2018, 05:37:16 AM
I Googled Baby Face and I am now very very interested.

Is Méliès generally considered animation?
Title: Re: Junior Gets Schooled
Post by: Junior on September 18, 2018, 01:27:25 PM
Melies is not generally considered animation, but the technique of stopping the camera to create the tricks in his trick films are the central technology of animation, so he's kind of a predecessor.

Ok, I've been a bit behind, so here's a lot.

Souls for Sale

Perhaps a movie being this open about how movies are made in this era should not surprise me. I've seen King Vidor's Show People, and that covers much of the same ground. Still, this movie was really great not only from a dramatic but also a behind-the-scenes perspective. We read and talked about the star system and its troubles around this era during the class associated with this movie and it was really interesting to see that dramatized. Here a woman literally falls off a train in the middle of nowhere and is rescued by people making a desert-based movie. Soon she's a star in her own right. The star-making system is kind of incredible, especially in how it tries to avoid scandal (she's technically married to a serial killer who spends much of the movie trying to get back to her so he can kill her and collect the insurance he took out on her). The whole thing leads to a climax set during the filming of the movie-within-the-movie's climax where a circus tent was set to be destroyed by a movie-magic hurricane but is instead destroyed by an actual storm. The action is pretty incredible, especially for the era, and it somewhat implausibly wraps up the many storylines. I was thorougly impressed with this one.


The Covered Wagon

Paramount was having a rough time until it turned this movie into an epic that was an allegory for itself. There's a wagon train going west in search of greater freedom (and, later, gold), but first they must survive the journey. Again, this movie is impressive in its scope, but this time there were too many shots of just a lot of wagons moving, or a bunch of horses crossing a river. Its not thrilling enough to keep my interest when it becomes big and impersonal. Luckily the personal stuff mostly works. The highlight for me was the old drunk who learns that the hero did not deserve his discharge from the army but then must get exactly the level of drunk he was when he learned this in order to remember it and save the heroine from marrying a different man. It's absurd but it is also quite funny. There's toxic masculinity all over this thing, and some standard racism towards Native Americans (even though the director was hired because he had some "indian blood" in him. But, you know, that shit happens. This one lasts a little too long for my liking, and could have been paced better, but it's pretty solid for a movie of its kind.


Now, animation!

The Enchanted Drawing - J.S. Blackton (1900)

Basically another trick film where Blackton draws things on a piece of paper and then "takes" them off the page with clever stop-camera tricks. Later the face he draws crudely moves and I guess it's fine, but it's nothing I'll remember forever.


Animated Painting - Edwin S. Porter (1904)

Even cruder, Porter draws a sunrise and then the sun moves up on its own until it comes off the painting (at which point it becomes just a special effect and not animation). Meh.


Humourous Phases of Funny Faces - J.S. Blackton (1906)

Blackton uses chalk drawings (and later paper cutouts that look like chalk drawings) to create the first frame-by-frame animated movie. The hand of the artist is still present as a means to convince audiences of what they see, but more impressive here is Blackton's various tricks that enhance the animation (running it backwards to "undo" a drawing and the aforementioned paper cut-outs that enable more motion are the highlights). Worth watching.


Lightning Sketches - J.S. Blackton (1907)

A glimpse at what blackton's vaudeville act would have looked like, there are moments of animation where the drawing smokes and the paper crumples on its own, but it's not fully animated in the traditional sense and is merely a curiosity.


Princess Nicotine (an excerpt) - J.S. Blackton (1909)

Stop motion animation with matches and cigarettes climbing into a cigar box, followed by a flower that wilts and then forms into a cigar that also climbs into the box. The animation is clever, but not super impressive.


Fantasmagorie - Emile Cohl (1908)

Considered the first fully animated film, it consists of 700 drawings and is a minute long. Using white line on a black screen (actually a black line on white paper inverted), the very simple forms allows him to explore movement rather than care about details. Cool stuff, especially the transformations between shapes and characters.


Little Nemo - Winsor McCay (1911)

Adapted from his newspaper cartoon, preceded by live action segment showing McCay drawing in real world (similar to lightning sketch vaudeville act) and telling his friends he'll make the animated thing in a month with 4k drawings. Then barrels of ink and big reams of paper get delivered, then assistant knocks over the stacks of drawings. Then McCay shows it to his friends. Then the animated part happens. Longer and smoother than what we've seen before. Invents "cycling" - reusing drawings over and over again so you don't have to redraw something - during squashing and stretching sequence. Perspective more than in Fantasmagorie, especially with dragon and car sections. Looks cool, especially as part of it is hand colored and matches his newspaper coloring (which is gorgeous).


Gertie the Dinosaur - Winsor McCay (1914)

Shown as part of vaudeville act, also based on a bet with friends, similar setup for Little Nemo. During vaudeville act, McCay would interact with Gertie and give her instructions, even throw pumpkin and eventually "go into" screen and ride her. She feels large, a good sense of scale. Gertie has a real personality you can ascertain from her actions and movement, and the clever meta-play is fun. My school also has a few of the original drawings and I got to see them. They're smaller than I expected and you can see the pencil marks below the strong ink lines, which is cool. Mostly it drove home how much work animation was before cel technology that allowed people to not have to re-draw every element of the frame over and over again.


The Sinking of the Lusitania - Winsor McCay (1918)

Remarkable for its artistry and sense of perspective, plus the use of "color" to indicate fire and smoke. It doesn't have Gertie's character, but it's a cool docu-animation.


The Adventures of Prince Achmed - Lotte Reiniger (1926)

Widely considered the first animated feature, at 70 minutes this is an impressive feat. I love the silhouette animation because it allows for detailed character work and remarkably realistic(ish) movement. The use of color and fantastic backgrounds make this a gorgeous watch. Reiniger and company animated to Wolfgang Zeller's outstanding score, so the movements also feel a little like choreography. There's a battle towards the end between two shape-shifing creatures that must have been the reference for Disney's Sword in the Stone. It's cool.


Felix Revolts - Otto Messmer (1923)

Felix is hungry but nobody will feed him. The town outlaws cats and he fights back, first by luring away fish and making a ruckus (chorus) at night, then the cats go on strike and tell the rats to run rampant, leading to the town asking the cats to come back and letting them have access to the kitchens, trashcans, etc. His character is heavily based on Chaplin's Tramp both aesthetically and thematically (outsiders looking for acceptance), but he also varies between being more catlike and more human in his movement. It's funny, but not as funny as the next one.


Felix the Cat Dines and Pines

Felix is hungry again and tries to create a menu (punch, jumping beans), then tries to eat mouse and chicken but they fight back. He eats a shoe and a can and then takes a nap and has nightmarish dream. The early parts are funny enough, but the surreal dream sequence is the real draw. It's spectacular even in stark black-and-white (there are few shades of gray in these shorts). This, of course, isn't the first or only movie that uses animation to "break" reality, but it is an effect that is well used in this case.


Whew, that's everything for now.
Title: Re: Junior Gets Schooled
Post by: Dave the Necrobumper on September 20, 2018, 07:03:19 AM
Here is a very early stop motion animation (1899, but that is disputed and it may actually be 1914) in an ad for the Bryant & May matches company. It was done by Arthur Melbourne-Cooper (
Title: Re: Junior Gets Schooled
Post by: Junior on September 20, 2018, 11:24:08 AM
I think I saw a picture of that one in my textbook, it's pretty cool.

Trying to keep up now.

The Freshman

My second viewing of this one and I feel roughly the same way about it. Lloyd is more interested in story than either of the other two big silent comedy stars but that also makes me less interested in what he's doing. At least in this film, the laughs come second, though they do come at a pretty good pace. I do also love how many knitted sweaters are being worn. The final sequence with the football game is pretty good, especially the shots that seem to come from the back of a moving truck. They're bouncy but invigorating for the era.


The Plastic Age

What if The Freshman were a drama? You'd get The Plastic Age (referring to youth, the time when people are moldable). Young college athlete goes off to college but finds himself falling in with the wrong crowd. His classroom and field performance falls off until he swears off women (Clara Bow, particularly), but by the end of his college career his pining for her causes the same problem. There's a football game at the end of this one too, but because it's played straight, it's not quite as exciting as The Freshman's version. It's very interesting to see the rhetoric around youth 30 years before the accepted "start" of the youth movement in America (it probably actually started in the 20s), but the dramatic stuff didn't quite work for me.


Alice Gets in Dutch (1924)

One of Disney's early Alice shorts, where a live action girl (Virginia Davis) starts off in the real world but transports to an animated wonderland that becomes a mix of live-action and animation. Here it happens because she gets put in a dunce hat at school and then falls asleep and has a dream of her mean teacher trying to stop her from playing with her animated friends. It's an impressive feat of animation, particularly in the parts where she inderacts directly with animated elements (she dances with a cat and gets hit by a physics-defying cannonball at one point). Some good gags (the sneezing powder that makes animated books sneeze themselves apart is my favorite) make this a fun time.


Plane Crazy

Technically made before Steamboat Willie but released (with synchronized sound added after that film's success) afterwards, this movie uses Ub Iwerk's rubber-hose animation to great effect. I loved the multi-purpose dog and then all the stuff with Mickey and the cow during the plane sequence. But perhaps most surprising was Mickey's character. He's not the squeaky-clean mouse we all know, and he even kisses Minnie against her will. That's, um, unfortunate to say the least, but it is interesting.


Steamboat Willie

That Disney was using this as a showcase for synchronized sound is obvious as much of the short involves music that Minnie and Mickey make using various farm animals as instruments. The technique works, and the whole thing is kind of delightful, even if it also gets that infernal song stuck in your head for the rest of the day. I guess that's a victory too.


Title: Re: Junior Gets Schooled
Post by: Junior on October 03, 2018, 11:12:21 AM
Bedtime (Fleischer Bros, 1923)

An Out of the Inkwell short that combines pretty cool animation and live actions stuff (an obvious predecessor for "Duck Amok") plus the dream-sequence motif that seems to be pretty darn common in this era (maybe in animation in general?). There's barely any story, but the animation gets cooler and cooler as the movie continues. The Fleischer style is not yet fully developed, but you can see the beginnings of it with the wacky rubber-hose movement for Koko the Clown.

Betty Boop gets Read (Fleischer Bros, 1933)

Ah, this is what I was expecting from the Fleischers. There's an alive-ness here that almost becomes annoying, especially when its characters that should just be standing still and are instead bouncing for no reason other than that it is motion on screen. There's another kind of aliveness in the short that I like: the sense that anything (a house, for example) could come to life at any moment. That's fun. Boop herself pushes the limits of decency (especially in the bath memory sequence) and it's not surprising that she gets targeted in the Hays Code enforcement that will start shortly after the premiere of this film. This one is fun, it's just not exactly my thing.